Stock footage: A brave new world

Round-table participants:
November 1, 2006

Round-table participants:

Jessica Berman-Bogdan: president, Global ImageWorks (Haworth, NJ)

Kristl Date-Dopps: director of product marketing, film, Getty Images (Seattle)

Paula Lumbard: founder/CEO, FootageBank HD (Venice, CA)

Jan Ross: senior vice president, BBC Motion Gallery (LA)

Kevin Schaff: CEO, Thought Equity (Denver)

Jocelyn Shearer: director of worldwide sales, National Geographic Digital Motion (Washington, DC)

Gary Shenk: senior vice president, images, Corbis (New York)

The micropayment models popularized by iStockPhoto and others, and the ‘crowdsourcing’ phenomenon, where material is contributed from viewers, are beginning to emerge in the stock footage realm – what impact do you think they’ll have?
Shearer: We’ve created ‘vending machine’ models and online models to somewhat commoditize and lower overall costs and raise margins. It’s going to happen even more quickly than perhaps we’d imagined, because of these new multi-platforms and rich media. And that segues nicely into the subscription and micropayment model question, where you’re going in the direction of: ‘Okay, multimedia has changed the way people consume moving content – what does that mean in terms of the economics of it?’
Ross: What does that mean in terms of the unfiltered access to it as well. As professionals, we are looking at making sure what we’re offering is cleared and has no rights issues, but there’s a new culture, if you will, arising. I think there’s room for both the mainstream and independent markets, but the issue is: can these parallel cultures exist with this unfiltered access that’s going to create a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace in terms of use and rights?
Schaff: I think they can both exist – it’s a matter of timing. Look at accessibility. Today you can get millions of photos online, but you can’t get that with footage, even with the top libraries… The largest online library is only a few hundred thousand clips.
So, if you’re looking at the volume of people and the cost associated with driving things like subscription sites, the accessibility in professional footage isn’t there yet, and that market will have to mature before you see subscription sites take off more effectively.
Date-Dopps: Getty Images recognizes the importance of social media and we see it as the ability to serve all markets at all price points that will drive market growth for the whole imagery industry. The subscription/micropayment model creates a gateway to get a whole different market interested in using imagery in a licensed way that they might not have thought about before. There’s a market that could be tapped through this affordable new model, and that will help us at the top end as well.
Shenk: On the photo side, there are two big impacts of the micropayment model – number one is there’s pricing pressure at the high end. It’s a business model that in and of itself is sustainable but it’s definitely going to impact the ‘traditional’ stock business. Even if it doesn’t displace the customer, it creates the perception of a lower price point.
Secondly, I do think it’s a viable market for a different type of customer. The quality tends to be lower. That’s not always the case, but as you apply it to footage the quality dimension can play out in different ways: the way the content was shot, the quality of how it’s digitized. There’s definitely going to be the market for that type of customer at a lower price point, and I would see that market as a growth opportunity.
Lumbard: For us, the subscription model has been put into place in relation to people licensing materials on an ongoing basis for television programs or that sort of thing. So, our subscription clients are not necessarily someone working at home on their iMac… For footage to be deliverable in a micropayment venue, [such as] the fully uncompressed high-definition materials we work with, the technology that’s going to underlie the delivery of that is still in play.
Ross: The important thing we’re asking here is: ‘What do people want?’ I think it’s a little short-sighted to try to say any more what that is. We’re at an intersection between the commercial and the non-commercial worlds… There are an infinite number of niche markets now. And that’s the exciting part of it. Like everyone says, that’s going to grow the [overall] market.
Berman-Bogdan: The thing I think validates a lot of what we do as commercial archives is there’s such an overabundance of images as a result of all these new people putting all this content out there. It helps to have a place to sort it out, to think it through or to trust, and not get lost in the choices.

How has your company adapted to doing business via the Net?
Schaff: The real driving factors are real-time search, preview and delivery. I’m interested to hear everybody else’s take on this: our tape delivery is down 85% from last year, yet our overall number of files being delivered has increased over 500%. That’s an interesting shift. I’d never have guessed that it would be that radically driven by technology.
Shearer: I can second that. We still have such a huge pile of material on analog that we’re working our way through, as once it’s digitized we can transcode on the fly into any format. But we’re finding we’re having to digitize analog just to send out as previews because the demand is so high.

Are you finding more clients are using hd material, or is there still mystification surrounding the format?
Date-Dopps: We’re seeing an increase in the capture and originating side for HD-created content. It’s happening worldwide.
Lumbard: I started FootageBank four-and-a-half years ago to serve the HD market… We’ve always, as our mandate, had education be a parallel track we take – we’re in our third edition of our format guide. Now we’re finding that the user will say ‘either/or’ – they’d like it in film or HD. We’re also finding that we can be of service for additional conversion issues. We’re getting HD-native content from Africa and Europe shot in 50i format that we then need to convert for the American market.
Ross: I don’t think we’ve seen the tipping point yet with consumers. I think there are lots of HD screens out there, but people are not signing up for the service. In fact, there was an article in Ad Age that said a lot of commercial producers are still producing in SD because they can’t find the return on investment to do it in HD, because people aren’t viewing in HD as much as we think. But I’d say in the next 18 months we’re going to see a big change.
Shenk: In the offline media market, and in the entertainment and advertising industries, I would look at this as the biggest growth market for Corbis. It’s mainly been a us phenomenon so far, but you do see some clusters of demand in Asia in particular, which often is a leapfrog type of market, and in some parts of Europe. In terms of the traditional motion market, this is one of the big growth opportunities.
Berman-Bogdan: I’m not seeing a lot of requests for HD from Europe yet, except from those who are producing for the us market.
As for the emerging platforms such as mobile and portable video, with whom are you dealing? What are you selling them?
Shenk: We’re increasingly trying to work with carriers directly. But ultimately, it’s a consumer market… In terms of images and motion, mobile has been all about personalization, and accessorizing your phone with something that makes it unique to you. We’ve recently seen a big uptake in motion, where there’s some sort of footage that has a cool factor that defines [the user] as a person.
Ross: The area I’m fascinated with is the video iPod, because I think kids are going to start taking home lessons on it… We’re going to see more than Desperate Housewives being translated for podcasting. I think there will be a lot more use of video in mobile handsets, but not necessarily telephones.
Date-Dopps: We have an in-house mobile business group that works very closely with the technology partners and the leading content aggregators to provide mobile-ready images and video clips. We just developed our first picture-based casual game called ‘PictoMatch’ which was distributed via Cingular Wireless, and we’re also growing a library of very unique video ringtones for its European and Asia Pacific partners.

It seems different companies are trying various things to be ‘one-stop shops’ for their clients, such as offering greater rights services or production capabilities. How are your companies reacting to the challenges the production world is facing?
Berman-Bogdan: We started as a rights and research company and expanded into the stock footage area, so we’ve always had that multiple service. I’ve seen the two areas more and more working together hand in hand.
Lumbard: For FootageBank HD, one of the most exciting developments is the arrival of ultra high-definition images – basically working with tapeless cameras that capture images in a 2K and 4K scan straight to hard drive. Standard hd is 1920 x 1080 but the 2K is 2048 x 1556, so we’re experimenting in that. Eventually all of this will go to what’s called 8K. Images are going to look more and more spectacular.
Schaff: There are two things you can live by: file sizes are going to get smaller and bandwidth is going to get bigger. So, it will open up new levels of the market that we haven’t even thought of yet as an industry.
Shearer: One of the things I’ve said a long time ago is I can’t wait for bandwidth to get where it needs to be so that footage can be king. As we all know, you can make stills out of footage but you can’t make stills move. There are endless possibilities for footage to be used in so many different media, and in so many different ways.
Date-Dopps: The need for moving communications has never been greater – to advertise, to brand, to entertain, educate and inform. We’re going to see great opportunities for pre-shot footage and stills to proliferate into all these industry segments, at all price points.
Berman-Bogdan: I think what’s happening as well with trends like crowdsourcing is that people are understanding that footage has a whole other kind of value. They’re telling stories in new ways and looking at footage in new creative ways. There’s a lot of opportunity and a whole new area of media development.
Ross: We’re also excited about embracing the diversity of the new cultural exchange happening online, and we hope the way to do that is by diversifying our images and respecting the diversity in the population by having a collection of niche images that will satisfy not only the independent markets but also the mainstream.
Shenk: In the context of all these shifts happening in the broadcast segment, we’re seeing huge growth in our business. People are looking to stock footage as a compelling alternative and a lower cost source, and they’re increasingly turning to us to provide search of footage, and rights and music clearances, and we’re turning that into a great growth business. I’d expect that to continue.

A version of this story appeared in ‘boards magazine.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.